By Kimani Kuria
Dr. Miriam Mutebi is the first female breast surgeon in Kenya and the president-elect of the African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), the largest regional organisation specializing in promotion of cancer care and control. Here is the inspiring story of Dr. Miriam Mutebi as told by WoK writer.
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Dr. Miriam attended St. Mary’s School and Kianda School for her high school education after which she enrolled at the University of Nairobi for her undergraduate degree in Medicine and Surgery.
She went on to undertake her general surgery residency at Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) where she was an active member of the Surgical Society of Kenya. This was followed by a Breast Surgical Oncology fellowship at the University of Cape Town, Groote Schuur Hospital that took two years.
The breast surgical oncologist at AKUH went on to join the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the US for a Mammadi Soudavar International Surgical Oncology Fellowship. At the same time, Dr. Miriam graduated from the New York-situated Weill Cornell University with a Clinical Epidemiology and Health Systems Research master’s degree. Her focus was to evaluate the challenges that faced African women in getting diagnosed and receiving cancer treatment, and consequently develop mitigation measures to the identified barriers.
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With a stellar academic background, the always jovial Dr. Miriam was charged for a career that would leave a positive impact. However, she is keen to note that despite her success, she did not always know that this was her life path. In a past interview, she had this to say; “There’s always the misconception that you’ll know what your passion is from the start, or it will hit you in the head and you will just know. It takes trial and error, an openness and willingness to learn, humility, and going through a series of experiences and finding what you tend to gravitate towards to.”
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Board and Organization Membership/Leadership
MoH Government Taskforce
The Ministry of Health established a government taskforce “mandated with reviewing the institutional, policy & legal framework for cancer management in the country; assess prevailing health system capacity to deliver effective cancer control, analyze the actors and stakeholders in the cancer ecosystem, among other tasks.” This was in response to worrying statistics by Globoscan that ranked Cancer as the third leading cause of death in the country with 42,116 new diagnosed cancer cases in 2020 alone. Dr. Miriam Mutebi was appointed to chair the task force whose members include Dr. Loise Nyanjau, Mr. Patrick Mathagu, and Patrick Mathagu along with Dr. Mary Nyangasi.
African Organization for Research & Training in Cancer (AORTIC)
Dr. Miriam was elected to serve the organization as president for a four-year term. The organization is committed to building Africa’s capacity in dealing with cancer covering areas such as research, training, awareness and advocacy throughout the continent. It brings together African professionals from various disciplines to the course that is close to Dr. Miriam’s heart.
In response to her election, she had this to say; “I am deeply honored to be elected by fellow oncology healthcare workers from across Africa, to lead the advocacy and research work on cancer. It is a wonderful time for cancer control in Africa! Through AORTIC and other initiatives, we now have a dedicated, enthusiastic, continental workforce along the entire cancer continuum. I intend to help us leverage our collective strengths and connections to innovate and develop collaborative, region-appropriate, evidence-based, data-driven solutions that help us improve journeys for cancer patients in Africa and to address current gaps.”
As a health systems researcher, her contributions to the organization have led to successes such as assembling the First International Breast Cancer Symposium in 2018 in sub-Saharan Africa and the first International Oncoplastic Workshop in sub-Saharan Africa. These platforms discussed matters such as improved surgical techniques in handling breast cancer patients.
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Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)
She is a board member at the Union for International Cancer Control where she not only represents Africa but also holds a position of influence in chartering cancer management and policies globally. The UICC is the world’s third largest organization primarily invested in preventing, controlling, and setting up sound policies in dealing with cancer with representation from 170 countries. The board is made up of seventeen directors who serve for a two year term. Miriam’s appointment was announced in December 2020 by the Board President Anil D’Cruz to much celebration and recognition around the continent as the first African oncologist to sit on the board. She went on to acknowledge her directorship saying, “This is an excellent opportunity for those living in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa to ensure that the global discussion on cancer policy and strategy, patient care and advocacy, is afro-centric as much as possible.”
She also heads the Commonwealth Task force for the elimination of Cervical Cancer and the Kenya Society of Hematology and Oncology. As a commissioner in the Lancet Commission for Cancer in sub-Saharan Africa, Lancet Commission for Breast Cancer, and the Lancet Commission for Women and Cancer, she is using her platforms to drive change and redefine interaction with the disease. She co-founded the Pan African Women’s Association of Surgeons and works as assistant professor in the AKU Department of Surgery.
Woman of Firsts
Dr. Miriam is a trailblazer who is raising the bar and breaking all glass ceilings in her way. As Kenya’s only female breast surgeon, she introduced Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforato, a breast reconstruction procedure that would give hope to breast cancer survivors who have undergone a mastectomy. Her appointment to UICC also marked the first appointment of an African oncologist to the board of directors.
Dr. Miriam is a poet who has a humorous and lighthearted way of going about life. She loves theater, reading, and exploring exotic cuisines. She also loves spending time with her parents when she is not up and about saving lives.
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